A God In Every Stone

Michele Roberts in The Independent:

ShamsiePink may be the colour of an Empire's territories shown on a map of the world, while for modern shoppers trawling that world it denotes gifts suitable for girls. Kamila Shamsie's passionate new novel, set in the early twentieth century, intertwining themes of war, colonialism and gender, works at one level through sensual image, giving us also the pink flesh inside split figs, the pink of slaughtered men's blood dissolving into the water of streams, the pink of the sweaty faces of sahibs sipping sundowners in their clubs. Individual characters, drawn together by historical imperatives, change each other, like tints laid side by side in a watercolour. At the heart of the novel lies the fabled city of Peshawar, site of ancient civilization, spilling with exquisite streets, houses and fruit orchards, now under British rule. Buried somewhere near the city is a lost, legendary silver circlet, which seems to stand for the enduring power of myth and memory, the heroic capacity of human beings to struggle and endure. The circlet finally turns up again amid scenes of resistance and carnage.

Shamsie keeps her symbolism firmly under control, deploying a clear, plain narrative style and a traditional realist form. These work well, given how much of the novel is necessarily expository, packed with names and historical facts. Its publication neatly timed to coincide with the anniversary of the First World War, A God in Every Stone concerns itself with stories left out of official accounts. Opening in the summer of 1914, it shows us first Vivian Rose Spencer, ardent young English archaeologist falling in love with the sites of the Ottoman Empire, falling in love also with Tahsin Bey, the Turkish scholar who, as a friend of her father's, has taught her Greek, encouraged her to study at UCL and invited her to join him on a dig. We are given little sense of the actual work involved, but strongly sense Viv's scholarly enthusiasm. When war is declared, Viv's parents summon her home to London.

More here.